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Fin Fish

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Fish and Seafood

Fall Volume: 2018 Issue: 25(3) page(s): 19

A hundred plus or minus a few species of fin fish, mollusks, crustaceans, and marine mammals, and a reptile, feed Taiwanese and Chinese demands for foods from the sea, rivers, ponds, and other water locations. Otters and cormorants and others fill nets, hooks, lines, and boats with sea creatures and have for years. There since earliest times and still there today, they are a great source of sea creatures for the people. Many of these swimmers are trained and were before 220 BCE. Some did learn to bring in fish soon after birth.

The otters and cormorants did not learn to dive or swim swiftly, these are natural abilities, as is cornering their prey. What they did learn was to bring their catch back to the boat when requested Humans are happy when they do so because sooner or later they get into the pots and pans of their owners or folks they sell them to. Actually, the cormorants stick close to home because their wings are clipped; the otters do so as many are chained to their cages or their owners by a string fastened to one of their feet, or they wear a harness with a chain to help them home or elsewhere.

Using these animals is not new to the Chinese. They did so hundreds of years ago and do so now. Some cormorants are captured from the wild, all are fitted with a ring around their neck to keep them from swallowing their catch. The otters have similar mechanisms keeping them from eating their catch. Some fishermen whistle to bring them back, and after they come, they are immediately rewarded with a smaller fish. Otters and birds used for these jobs are often hatched under domestic hens then trained as soon as possible. The strings or chains can be removed, but only after they are totally trained. In addition to any rewards, they get a monthly ration of rice, and they live and die in their cages, when not needed.

After catching enough fish for their masters, when too old to continue this work, they can be fed to other animals. One fisherman we read about kept fifteen of them under his control. In three months they caught enough fish for one country for one year. Trained otters can be found in writings in Tang Dynasty times (618 - 907 CE). They were popular in many provinces, chains attached to the boats of their owners or clamped to a pole. Some were attached to circular nets weighted down around their edges. The nets covered large areas, and they could be pulled up with ropes when needed. The otters came to the surface when no more fish were needed or they dive in and came back with one or more fish. These fishermen surely did have them well-trained.

Others brought in fish from ponds or lakes. This was popular at least since the 5th century BCE. Others grew fish in ponds with taro growing there. Carp was a common fish raised, they liked ponds with many insects to feed on. Other fish would need other environments, each raised according to them, some fish needing ponds in saline locations.

One nobleman gave Confucius a gift of a common carp on the birth of his first son. He named the boy Li,’ meaning ‘common carp.’ This fish symbolizes good fortune, abundance, and wealth, clearly a wish he had for him. Carp eat lots of waste, some can also be omnivorous.

Pond management alternates as needs change, fish and crop rotation taken into consideration, the plants can be water chestnut, arrow head, lotus, rice, various vegetables, or aquatic plants interspersed among them. Some fish and vegetables go to market swimming in baskets. If they do, they command higher prices. Some go marinated or fermented to deliver classic flavors and aromas praised, prized, and appropriately paid for. On pages 36 and 37 are six recipes. They can be used for all fin fish.

Carp in Casserole

1 three pound carp, scales, bones, and guts discarded
1 small dried hot pepper, seeded, and diced
3 scallions, cut into half-inch pieces
3 firm half-pound doufu squares cubed into half-inch pieces
1 Tablespoon sa cha sauce
3 Tablespoons dark soy sauce
3 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and smashed
3 Tablespoons Chinese rice wine
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
½ teaspoon coarse salt
3 lettuce leaves


1 Put fish, hot pepper and scallion pieces, doufu, soy sauce, garlic, rice wine, sugar, and salt in a heat-proof casserole.
2. Cover with the lettuce leaves, and put in a steamer basket over boiling water. Steam for forty minutes, then serve.

Fish Slices, Zhanxiang Style

½ pound fish filets, cu in two-inch sections
2 Tablespoons lard
2 egg whites
5 Tablespoons tapioca flour
5 small dried Chinese black mushrooms, soaked until soft, stems discarded, caps halved
5 Mandarin orange sections , each cut in two
5 baby bok cai, each cut in half the long way
½ cup vegetable oil
3 scallions, each cut in half-inch pieces
3 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
3 Tablespoons Chinese rice wine
2 Tablespoons cornstarch same amount of cold water


1. Heat a wok, add the lard, and coat the pieces of fish with a mix of egg whites and tapioca flour, then fry them on both sides until golden, drain them on paper towels.
2. Steam the mushroom caps for five minutes, then add them to the wok or fry-pan and stir-fry them for two or three minutes before adding the orange pieces and baby bok cai halves and stir these just once then set them aside with the pieces of fish.
3. Clean the wok, then add the vegetable oil, then the scallion and garlic pieces and stir-fry for two minutes before returning the fish and mushrooms. Stir-fry for two minutes.
4. Now add the orange and bok cai pieces, and the rice wine, and stir for one minute.
5. Stir cornstarch mixture, add it to the wok and stir for another minute until it thickens; and serve.

Braised Fish

1 pound skinless and boneless sea bass or halibut fillets cut in large pieces
2 Tablespoons thin soy sauce
2 Tablespoons Chinese rice wine
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon Chinese black vinegar
3 slices fresh ginger, slivered
1 Tablespoon chili paste with garlic
2 scallions, angle-sliced


1. Mix fish with the soy sauce, rice wine, and sesame oil.
2. Then heat a wok or fry pan and fry the pieces of fish on both sides, then add the vinegar, ginger, and chili paste and gently toss for one minute before adding the scallion pieces, stirring, and after another minute, toss and serve in a pre-heated shallow bowl.

Fish Fillets in Hot and Sour Sauce

1½ pounds of skinless cod or bass fish fillets
1 egg
1 teaspoon coarse salt
3/4 cup cornstarch
1½ cup vegetable oil
5 slices fresh ginger, slivered
3 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and slivered
3 Tablespoons chili paste with garlic
1 carrot, peeled, cut in sticks, and boiled for three minutes
½ onion, diced
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
½ cup sugar
½ cup red vinegar
2 Tablespoons mix of dark and thin soy sauce
3 Tablespoons Chinese rice wine
3 Tablespoons cornstarch in same amount of cold water


1. Cut fish into two-inch pieces, then dip them in the egg then the cornstarch, and refrigerate covered for one hour.
2. Heat wok or fry-pan, add the oil, and fry the fillets until golden on both sides, then drain on paper towels, and remove all but two tablespoons of the oil.
3. Reheat the oil, and stir-fry the garlic and the ginger for one or two minutes, then add the chili sauce, carrot and onion pieces and stir-fry for one minute before adding the sugar and vinegar and the soy sauces and wine, and stir this once or twice.
4. Mix cornstarch and water, turn heat to high, and stir it until thickened, then serve in a pre-heated bowl.

Fish Soup

6 ounces boneless and skinless fin fish fillets, cut into thin strips or small squares
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 thousand-year Chinese preserved eggs, peeled and chopped very, very coarsely
4 cups chicken broth
1 scallion, slivered
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
salt and pepper, to taste
1 Tablespoon Chinese rice wine
1 Chinese cruller cut in half, sliced, and deep fried one minute, then drained and put on paper towels


1. Heat oil, then stir-fry the fish for two minutes.
2. Toss in the egg pieces and add the broth, scallion, sesame oil, salt and pepper, and the rice wine.
3. Prepare pre-heated bowls or a large soup tureen, add the cruller pieces, and serve.

Steamed Boneless Whole Fish

3 medium whole but boneless scaled fish
1 small slivered dried tangerine peel
3 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and slivered
½ dried chili pepper, seeds discarded
1 scallion, angle-sliced
3 stalks coriander, coarsely chopped
salt and pepper, to taste
2 Tablespoons thin soy sauce
2 Tablespoons sesame oil
2 lotus leaves, soaked until soft, vein discarded
1 egg, beaten


1. Put fish on lotus leaves, and scatter pieces of tangerine peel garlic, chili pepper, scallion, coriander over them, and the salt and pepper.
2. Put soy and sesame oil over fish holding lotus leaves making a container. Then seal them with the sesame oil and egg putting them seam-sides down in steamer basket for fifteen minutes (less if fish are tiny); then serve.

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